Tag Archives: Evangelism

REVISITED: The Unknown God

Read Acts 17:16-34

“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)


One of my favorite accounts of Paul is in Acts, where he traveled to Athens, Greece. There he walked among the temples and the markets, marveling at all of the different sights that he saw. Just think of a large city you’ve yet to visit and imagine what it would be like to go there for the first time. The towering buildings, the crowds of people bustling by, the bright lights and the busy roads. Paul would have been equally amazed upon arriving at Athens, the epicenter of western philosophy and cultural significance.

While walking through the temples, he saw the great statue of Zeus, as well as the statue of Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens. Paul even saw an altar that had inscribed on it: “to the unknown god”. Paul was taken back by that. These people had a god for everything and for every god they had a statue; however, they didn’t just stop there, they also alotted for gods they might not know. I can imagine the excitement welled up in Paul, who was a deeply educated person. I imagine that the creative wheels began to churn in his philosophical mind.

Before going on with this story, before I tell you what Paul did in response to this experience he had, I would like to tell you what Paul did not do. He did not scoff at or reject the Greek culture. He did not storm out of Athens in order to get far away from “those heathens” or “those pagans.” He did not march up to the town center and begin to tell the people there that they had it ALL WRONG. He did not tell them things in a language foreign to them, nor did he expect them to come to him to learn about what he believed in.

I raise up what he DID NOT DO because I find that those are the exact things many Christians and many churches are doing. We scoff and/or reject the culture. I have seen churches collect “secular” CDs and DVDs from their youth and destroy them so that they purge their youth of the secular culture. We  often look at non-Christians and/or those who do not attend church judgmentally, we approach people with different beliefs and let them know how right we are and how they should see things our way. What’s more, we also speak to them using church language if we speak to them at all. That leads me to my final observation, churches often expect people to walk through their doors seeking “the truth” rather than the church seeking to bring the truth out to others.

Paul did none of the above; rather, what Paul did was brilliant. He took something from their own culture and religion (the altar to the unknown god) and used it to spark a conversation that led people to a conversation about Jesus Christ. He did not scoff at them, but praised “how religious” they were. He did not judge them, but praised them for having such devotion that they would leave room for an god not known to them. He did not tell them what imbiciles they were and that they should listen to him and he spoke to them using their own language and their own culture as points of reference. Finally, he did not wait for them to find him, but he found them and intitiated the conversation.

This sort of ministry model is the one that the church needs to begin to master if it is going to reach those who are desperately in need of the hope, the healing, and the wholeness that Christ has to offer. The church needs to get off of its pedastal and humble itself so that it can effectively engage with people at THEIR  level. The church needs to heed Christ’s warning to “judge not” and start recognizing the good in people who are different from them. It needs to listen as much as it speaks and it needs to speak in a language that makes sense to the people it is speaking to.

Most importantly, the church needs to realize that it is NOT SOMETHING SPECIAL for spectators to come and see. The church, to the contrary, is the body of Christ and is called to be out where the people are. The church is called to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world. The building should be nothing more than a resource to help in that mission. I pray that you will read today’s Scripture and reflect on Paul’s ministry model. I pray that we all will be challenged to see the wisdom in it, so that we can all become better witnesses of God’s unconditional, inviting, and transformational love.

“Evangelism is not an option for the Christian life.” – Luis Palau

Lord, help me to reach people where they are, with words and deeds that they understand, so that I may effectively witness to the Gospel. Amen.


Read 1 John 3:16-18

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NLT).

As a The Walking Dead I must say that I am extremely happy with the series finale. Season 11 has been the most engaging, enthralling, spiritual and brilliant season of the entire series in my humble opinion. Everything has, in some ways, come full circle and you really get a sense that the shows creators intended the show to come to this place all along, especially the show’s adept theological underpinnings.

Case in point, without any spoilers (as you know I run a tight no-spoiler ship), let’s look at episode 19, which is entitled, “Variant”. In that episode, Lydia (who’s only a teenager) is up on platform keeping watch for any threats, including the possible zombie herd which can really wreak havoc. One of the adult characters, Aaron sees her and joins her asking if she would like him to cover for her. She declines and he can tell that something is up between her and her friend Elijah.

So, being concerned for her, he asked her if something was up between them. She mentioned how there was a “moment” between her and Elijah, meaning that she was falling in love with him and him with her. The moment was that they almost kissed and that really freaked Lydia out. Why? Because it brought back too many memories of her boyfriend, Henry, who died an awful and horrific death.

“I…uh…I don’t think can again,” Lydia told Aaron, in a sad and depressed and wounded way.

Aaron, seeing her about to break down and at a loss of words, began to speak. “I…uh…used to be married once.” From there he proceded to tell her how he met his husband back in Washington D.C. His husband, Eric, would continually ask him out and he kept saying no. There was an instant connection between them, but for 6 months he kept saying no.

“Why?” Lydia asked him.

“I don’t know. I guess I thought I was too busy or that I    wasn’t ready. Maybe I was just afraid,” Aaron replied. “But eventually I said yes, and our time together, those years in Alexandria, it was the happiest moments of my life.”

Aaron, pausing with tears in his eyes, took a deep grief-filled sigh. “You know, after he died, I thought, you know, I’d give anything to take back just one of those nos so that we could have one more day together.”

Then, pausing, Aaron looked at her and said, “Lydia, loss is inevitable. It always has been. The only thing we can control is when we say yes.” Walking away, Aaron left Lydia there to keep watch and think about her relationship with Elijah.

Friends, this is an example of the deep kind of theological and spiritual content you find in this show. Here we have a teenaged woman, who is confessing to her friend…and a mentor to her…how she is no longer able to let herself have a relationship with someone she likes because of the loss she has faced.

This is a common side-effect, or consequence more appropriately, of grief. We’ve all been through it. We find ourselves bargaining with God, angry that we have experienced loss at all, perhaps guilty, and certainly in despair. Those things can lead us, if we succumb to it, to withdrawl and not allow anyone to come close to us again. This is exactly what Lydia was going through, and Aaron understood it because he had experienced it too.

While it may be, in context, be focused on her relationship with Elijah, Aaron’s words to Lydia are true for us too. Loss is inevitable. We live in a broken world of loss and pain and suffering. Loss has always been inevitable. And that pain can cause us to say NO to others as well as saying NO to Christ. The only thing we have control of, by the grace of God, is when we say yes. Christ, in fact, calls us to say yes to drawing close to him and to us drawing others to as well.

We can say no because of the loss, the hurts, the pain we’ve suffered, because we find it too risky or painful. We can allow our brokenness to shut us down, or we can SAY YES to Christ and yes to being in a godly relationship with others. Through Christ we can avoid shutting down and saying no, and we can live a fulfilled life of YES to being builders of Christ’s community, the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Lord Alfred Tennyson

Lord, help me to grow in my capacity for love, despite the hurts and hang ups I have. Heal me and use me in service of your kingdom. Amen

REVISITED: Love Yourself

Read Matthew 14:22-23; Mark 6:45-46; John 6:14-15


“To get wisdom is to love oneself; to keep understanding is to prosper.” (Proverbs 19:8)

HeartHave you ever stopped to notice how busy you are? Or have you ever stopped to notice how busy everyone around you is? This world is non-stop business, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and three hundred sixty-five days a year.  The world keeps on turning, spinning on its invisible axis, and there isn’t anything we can do about it.

Before we know it, years have gone by, our kids have grown up and we are wondering where the time went and not sure where we were when all of life blew past us like a jet plane.  We hear plenty of catch phrases like, “Don’t let the world pass you by”, or “Don’t take life for granted”; yet, we often do take life for granted because we simply are too busy to do otherwise.

As a pastor of a church, a district youth director, a chaplain, a husband, and a father, I certainly know too well what being busy is all about. Each one of those titles bears with it a whole host of different duties that give me plenty of places to be and plenty of things to do. In the midst of all of the stuff that I have to do on any given day, it seems so easy to forget the one title has always defined who I am. The title of being ME.

How easy it is to forget that, in the midst of all the stuff each one of us has to do, it is important that we not forget to care for ourselves in the process.  After all, God created us, not to be eternally busy, but to enjoy God’s creation. If we are a part of God’s creation, then it certainly follows that God created us to enjoy ourselves. But how many of us truly spend time on ourselves?  How many of us truly take time away from our jobs, our chores and our families to spend quality time with ourselves? My guess is not too many of us.

But God is calling us to spend time with ourselves. God wants us to get to know who we are, to intimately spend time building a relationship with innermost selves. Jesus certainly knew this. If anyone was busy, Jesus was. Between preaching and teaching and healing and traveling and all of the other amazing things, Jesus was just about as busy as anyone could get; however, he also had no qualms about going up to the mountaintop to be alone and to pray.

God is calling us to do the same. There is nothing wrong with being busy, and there is certainly a lot of work for all of us to do; however, there is something wrong with not taking care of ourselves. And if we do not take care of ourselves, we really have no business trying to take care of others.

That is why, since January of 2012, I have made a point of taking care of myself. I run, I compose music, I write poetry, I sketch using charcoal, I hike and do a lot of different activities that get me in touch with myself.  I have made it a part of my spiritual discipline to be alone and to care for me.

The question is not if you can do it…but will you do it? God wants you to get to know yourself, to spend alone time praying and meditating on Scripture. God wants us to not only be in relationship with God and with others, but to also be in relationship with ourselves.  It is only then that we will be able to find the strength to do all of the other things God is calling us to do.  Think about it. God is calling you to relax a little and enjoy being you! After all, you are a part of God’s good creation! So praise God and enjoy yourself!


“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball


Lord teach me to love myself just as much as you love me. Then send me out with that love so I can share it with others. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: A Time to Zip

Read John 17


“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.” (Psalms 52:8)

zip-liningWhile I was not a huge fan of high school while I was in it, there are some things that stand out in my mind that I look back on and cherish as valuable learning experiences. One of the things I remember was that our high school had this outdoors obstacle course that had all sorts of stuff set up in it, including an awesome and adrenaline pumping zip line. This was one of those things that people either loved or hated.

One of the teachers would climb up to the zip line first, and then invite students, one at a time, to climb up to where he was. Before climbing, a teacher at the bottom would place the student in a harness that had a cable attached to it. The one end of the cable was attached to the student, it then traveled up to a pulley and back down to the teacher on the ground who would act as the counter weight. This was to ensure that if the student fell she or he would dangle and slowly be lowered down to safety.

Both teachers would ensure the students that it was perfectly safe so long as they obeyed the safety rules. All the student had to do was trust the teacher, climb the pole. Once he/she got up to the platform, they would be harnessed into the zip line and off he or she could go. All that was required, both to climb up the pole and to zip down the line, was a little trust. one had to trust that the teacher was harnessing them up right and they had to trust that, should one slip and begin to fall, the teacher to whom one is harnessed would be able to counter the weight and lower the student safely back to the ground.

There were some students that didn’t blink an eye before putting their trust in the teachers. They were the ones who climbed up to the top and had the thrill of zipping down that line.  Others, myself included, were a little more cynical about the teacher’s ability to “save” me. Many of us never even made it up the pole at all; rather, we sat there looking up…only imagining who awesome that zip line might be. I, and others like me, simply could not get ourselves to trust.

This is a great metaphor for the church. Christ has called us to place our trust in him. What’s more, Christ has also asked us to place trust in each other. On the surface, that sounds easy enough, right? In reality, this is not an easy thing for most people. Most of us Christians find ourselves way too cynical to place our trust in each other. We can talk all day long about trusting Jesus, but we cannot bring ourselves to trust others in our church and/or fellowship.

In one sense, it is understandable that we have such a hard time in trusting each other. There is great risk associated. We may see our vision of the fading into the shape of someone else’s vision. We may place our trust in the wrong people, only to find out that we’ve been used and taken advantage of. There are lots of things that can go wrong with placing our trust in each other.

Yet, Jesus took that risk in his own life and calls us to do the same. We are to place our trust in God, to place our trust in God’s church (in and through whom the Holy Spirit works), and to be trustworthy to those who are trusting us.  Not one of us is perfect and sometimes our trust will be broken and/or we will break others trust; however, if we are ever to move forward, if we are ever to take the leap of faith and zip down the line, if we are ever to move beyond the paralysis of our cynicism and our fears, we will have to place our trust in God and in each other. Even when people fail us, God never will. So, what do you have to lose?


“Who trusts in God’s unchanging love, builds on the rock that naught can move.” – Georg Neumark


Lord, guide me to be more trusting of you and of your church. You have not just called me but have called others. Help me to work with them and to trust them so that your work may be done here in my community. Amen.

God’s People, part 290: Luke

Read Colossians 4:14

“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. So do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my co-workers. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Philemon 23-25, NLT).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 290: Luke. Luke is probably the most well-known of Paul’s companions and co-workers. The reason for this is that the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles have been attributed and probably were written by him. Of course, those works are anonymous; however, there is some convincing textual evidence that has been argued in favor of Lukan authorship. Out of all of the missionaries, Luke certainly is the most recognizable.

At the end of Colossians, Paul sent greetings from Luke, of whom he referred to as the beloved doctor or physician. Luke was a gentile man who would have no doubt had some modest wealth as a physician. In ancient Rome, private practicing doctors made anywhere from 300,000 to 600,000 sestertii per year. To put that into persepctive, soldiers got paid a measly 900 sesterii a year.

Luke would have received a good education in order to become a doctor and would have been a prolific writer, which can be seen in his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Doctors in the ancient world were known to extensively write and, to this day, we have writings from doctors in the ancient world. When one reads the Gospel of Luke and Acts, one gets the sense that he was a highly educated man. In Luke, he opened his Gospel up with, “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught” (Luke 1:1-4, NLT).

In that introduction, Luke was indicating that he had done his research and was putting together an ordered account for Theophilus, and we can see that he had the approach of a well-educated man who researched, used reason, and history in order to be as accurate as possible. From this introduction, we also gather that he was not an eyewitness to Jesus and that he was drawing from many sources, not just three. How many Gospels were there? We don’t know, but there were multiple accounts circulating, both orally and in written form.

This is the Luke that Paul refers to in our Scripture reading today. He was a fellow co-worker and occasional companion with Paul. He was with Paul in Colossae and he was with Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome as well. No doubt, Luke attended to Paul’s medical needs as well as to his Spiritual needs. He was a man of loyalty and well-respected among the early Christian churches.

Beyond this, we know little more about Luke. In fact, there are two traditions on how he even died. In one tradition, based off of early written accounts, Luke settled in Greece, wrote his Gospel, wrote Acts, and, at the age of 84, he peacefully died in Boeotia. In the other tradition, he was martyered by Nero after being accused of practicing sorcery. In that tradition, Nero cut off Luke’s hand after which Luke performed a miracle by reattaching the hand to his wrist. That miracle caused all of Nero’s cabinet to believe in Christ and, as a result, Nero ordered all of them, including Luke, to be beheaded.

It is hard to really know what is true when it comes to these traditions and, honestly, it doesn’t really change who Luke was either way. Luke is, yet again, another important faithfulness is and how powerful faithful witness can be. Luke’s Gospel emphasized God’s affinity for the “least of these” and how important it was for wealthy people, such as himself, to value God’s Kingdom and human life over and above finances. Luke used his resources to help others, including Paul, and he humbly served and made a huge impact in the development of the New Testament canon and of Christianity itself. In fact, his Gospel and Acts make up one quarter of the entire New Testament.

Luke’s traits should challenge us to grow in our own faithfulness and commitment to being a faithful witness. Evangelism is vital to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ Luke’s example shows us how important that is in ushering the Kingdom of God, where the last shall be first, where the poor shall be rich, and where the the lost and the least shall be welcomed in by a Father (e.g. the Prodigal Son) who is waiting with open, loving arms.  Let our commitment to evangelism be renewed and let us continue to grow in our faithfulness.

“The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.” – Hudson Taylor

Lord, I love you and praise your holy name. Please give me the strength to be a powerful witness to your Good News and for your Kingdom. Amen.

God’s People, part 285: Holy Coalition

Read Romans 16:6, 8-23

“Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.”  (Romans 16:25-27, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 285: Holy Coalition. In today’s Scripture, Paul continues asking the Roman church to greet the list of people he was sending. Here is the list of people that Paul sends his greetings to in Rome:

Priscilla and Aquila, Epenetus, Mary, Andronicus and Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, the believers in the household of Aristobulus, Herodion, the household of Narcissus, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who meet with them, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and to Olympas and all the believers who meet with them.

On top of those believers, some of whom we have already discussed, Paul sent the letter with Deacon Phoebe and asked the church to treat her with the highest of honor. This list of names are each of the people Paul knows in Rome, all of whom had been partners in mission and ministry. These were the people who carried on Paul’s work in Rome and how Paul, though he had never been there, had a connection to the believers in that city.

That is quite an extrodinary network Paul had built up; however, Paul continued by also sending the greetings of others who were with him in Corinth, where he wrote the letter. Those people included: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, and Tertius. In fact, Tertius was the one who was pyhsically writing the letter as Paul dictated it to him. It is well established that Paul’s eyesight was bad and that he had people who would write down what he dictated to them. Sometimes, as we will see in future devotions, Paul would sign the letter in his own hand to prove to the receiving community that it was, indeed, him.

What we see at the end of Romans was an extensive network of people that Paul had worked with and befriended over his many years in ministry. Nay, this was more than a network, it was a Holy Coalition of believers, revolutionizing the pasgan Western world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What an amazing legacy we see! What a lesson for us, as modern Christians, to learn.

This should remind all of us that we are a part of a Holy Coalition of believers! We are a Holy Coalition of ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! You need not be ordained in order to be a minister; you merely need to follow Jesus and deliver the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have not come to him as their Lord and Savior.

Who are in your Holy Coalition? Who are in your network of believers that you can join with in mission and ministry? We were not created to spread the Gospel by ourselves, but as a community of believers. It is in this Holy Coalition that we find the strength and the support to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people. Let us continue to build up that Holy Coalition so that more and more people come to know, love, and surrender to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s hard to survive alone on an island. This is especially true in our faith.

Lord, help me to see the value of spiritual networking, or coalition building, and of being a part of your community of believers, that I might be supported in my mission to serve you. Amen.

God’s People, part 277: Agrippa

Read Acts 25:13-27; 26:1-32

“For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.”  (Acts 28:30-31, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 227: Agrippa. The Agrippa of Acts 25 and 26 was actually Herod Agrippa II, who was the son of the better known Herod Agrippa I, who was the Agrippa in power back in Acts 12. If you remember, it was Herod Agrippa I who killed the Apostle James, son of Zebedee, and who had Peter imprisoned. In Acts 25 and 26, it is Agrippa’s son, also named Agrippa, who Paul plead his case before.

One of the tricky things about reading the Bible is understanding the passage of time. Years can easily pass in a chapter or two and so, as was mentioned in the last devotion, Paul had been in prison for two years before he came face to face with Agrippa II. Of course, that also means that many, many years had passed from the death of James under Agrippa I. Now his son was the ruler and Paul was nearing the end of his ministry and his life, with only another four to seven years left to live.

Agrippa, like every other politician, did not really care about Paul, himself. He cared about keeping the peace and he about order. When he arrived at Caesarea with his sister, Bernice, he was curious to hear Paul’s defense. In fact Festus wanted him to hear him as well, since Paul had appealed to Caesar. That very appeal meant that Paul had to be sent to Rome to be tried in the Roman courts. This was problematic for Festus who couldn’t send Paul with the charge of “Jewish heresy”, which is what the Jewish religious leaders were accusing him of. Rome didn’t care about the local religious matters of the Jews. Thus, Festus wanted Agrippa to weigh in on what charges to send Paul to Rome with.

Paul, then, was invited to make his defense before King Herod Agrippa II, Festus and his accusers. Paul, the great Apostle that he was, not only defended himself against the accusations of the Jewish religious leadership, he also took the time to appeal the merits of the Gospel to Agrippa, who was a learned Jew himself and an expert “on all Jewish customs and controversies” (Acts 26:3).  In fact, Agrippa was very knowledgeable in Jewish history and was a supporter of Flavius Josephus, a famous historian living during that time period.

Agrippa was certainly impressed and amazed by Paul’s zeal and passion as an evangelist. Paul even began to rhetorically question Agrippa on his belief in the prophets, in which Paul was then going to try and show the king how Jesus fulfilled all of those prophesies. Agrippa interrupted Paul and asked, “Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly” (Acts 26:28, NLT)?

Agrippa knew where Paul was headed with his line of questioning and, though perhaps a little taken back by his boldness, he clearly was impressed. In fact, following the hearing, Agrippa confided in Festus that Paul “…could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32, NLT). In other words, Agrippa would have let him go and, no doubt, Festus would have as well, had Paul not gone up the political chain.

Still, it was Paul’s right as a Roman citizen to make such an appeal. Agrippa and Festus, as politicians, were not going to interfere with the Roman legal process and, truthfully, they were sparing themselves a headache by sending Paul to Rome. What’s important for us to take away from this is that, even when on trial, Paul put Christ and the Gospel first; instead of spending his time defending himself, he used his time in court to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world

As Christians, every waking moment should be a moment to serve Christ. Everything we do should be a witness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The account of Paul and Agrippa should be a reminder of not only what is at stake, but that we can and should place our faith in our sovereign God, whose plan is being carried out through us. We are the vessels of Christ. Let the Gospel fill and pour out of us into the world.

We are the vessels of Christ.

Lord, fill this vessel with Your love and grace and with the Good News for all people, so that I may be a witness of You and all of Your glory to others. Amen.

God’s People, part 271: A Growing Fellowship

Read Acts 20:1-6

“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. ” (Matthew 5:16, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 271: A Growing Fellowship. If there is one thing that we notice about Paul as we journey with him through Acts, is that he is a magnetic individual. He starts off with Barnabas and overtime, though he and Barnabas part ways, he ends up with an enite entourage of co-workers in Christ, a growing fellowship if you will. Of course, as with all magnets, when two of the same magnetic pole come together they repel each other; however, while Paul did repel some away from him, he attracted a large number of people through his teaching, charisma, and passion for the Gospel.

In today’s reading we see the list has grown. We already knew that, by this point, he was traveling with Luke, Titus, Timothy, and others. From that, we now learn that ” Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia” were all traveling with him. He, indeed, had a growing Fellowship.

This is because Paul understood the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel is not a private, personal affair. In his preface to his 1739 publication, Hymns and Sacred Poems, John Wesley wrote, “Solitary Religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy Solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than Holy Adulterers. The Gospel of CHRIST knows of no Religion, but Social; no Holiness but Social Holiness.”

In other words, the American/European model of Christianity, that one must keep it private and not share it with others lest you offend them, is NOT in line with the Chrsitian Gospel. In fact, it is the antithesis of the Gospel. First, it is important to remember that Jesus and Paul and the original Apostles were all Jewish. Judaism is a communial, social religion. That was one of the things that separated and distinguished it from pagan religions, which were mostly personal and private.

Thus, so was Christianity, which branched out from Judaism. Christ did not come, teach, die, and resurrect for his followers to keep that to themselves. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus commanded before ascending to heaven: “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19, NLT).

The commandment is a SOCIAL COMMANDMENT. Go. Make disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is the Christian game plan. Paul understood that and he followed that game plan to a “T”. He engaged people, got to know them, befriended them, and witnessed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. I am sure that not everyone who he befriended became Christians, and it is certain he offended a great many people; still, he carried out the Christian mission with utmost faithfulness!

That should challenge us as well. Remember, the Gospel of Jesus Christ knows of no SOLITARY RELIGION. The American message of keep your faith to yourself is NOT a Christian message. It is a civic religion message. Civic religion teaches a FALSE GOSPEL. Let us be a people who break the chains of civic religion and pick up the cross of the Gospel, so that others may see and know that Christ lived and died and rose for them!

“Faith working by Love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian Perfection.” – John Wesley

Lord, let us be a people who follow you boldly and socially so that we may be your witnesses to all around us. Amen.

God’s People, part 264: Philosophers

Read Acts 17:16-34

“Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.”  (Psalms 138:6, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

The view of the Acropolis from the Areopagus

Part 264: Philosophers. As a person who has his BA degree in Philosophy, this has always been one of my more favorite encounters in the New Testament. Paul visiting Athens, the western philosophy center of the ancient world, is an epic example of how brilliant Paul was as an evangelist. It shows that Paul had enough cultural intelligence and competency to know how to engage people in a way that drew their attention.

Sadly, when we think of evangelism today we think of tracts being handed at random to people, we think of signs saying, “turn or burn”, and we think of religious fanatics going door to door to tell people about their Lord and Savior Jeeezusah!, without whom they’ll go to hell. Yet, when we look at Paul’s approach, particularly here in Acts 17:16-34, we see that Paul did quite the opposite.

Instead, Paul enters into Athens and the Areopagus with a measure of humility and appreciation of the culture and religion of others. That is not to say that Paul subscribes to their religious beliefs or practices, but he respects them and treats the human beings at the Temple in Athens and the Areopagus as humans created in the image of God. This is absolutely a must, and it is the approach that we see Paul employ throughout his ministry. He didn’t try to change the culture or the cultural traditions; rather, he inserted Christ into them. He invited people to believe in Christ and accept Christ, who accepted them regardless of where they were from or what their culture was or was not.

One great example of this was when he went before the council at the Areopagus and addressed the the leaders and Philosophers as follows:

“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about” (Acts 17:22-23, NLT).

In that discourse with the “men of Athens”, Paul did not denigrate them, nor did he attack them; rather, he saw the value in their religiosity and used that at as the basis from which he shared the Gospel with them. In other words, he took the time to understand them before he embarked on a campaign to share who he was with them. He saw that they humble enough of a people to recognize that they don’t know the fullness of God. As such, he commended them on their setting up an altar to the “Unknown God”, and then proceeded to tell them about the God they did not know.

Of course, Athens being full of philosophers, Paul’s speech led to a ton of philosophical, metaphysical, and theological questions. Paul, of course, entertained those; however they did come a point when he realized that many of those philosophers were merely looking to engage philosophically and were not interested in believing Paul’s teaching on who Jesus Christ was. Again, Paul understood his audience and, instead of further arguing with them in order to force them to see things as he did, he simply walked away and did not return to entertain further useless philosophical debate.

Regardless, there were some who came to believe who Christ was as a result of Paul’s witness, including a woman named Damaris. Praise God! How awesome that Paul was able to understand and respect the culture of other people in a way that invited them to hear about Jesus in non-threatening ways. That, of course, led them to accept him. Again, praise God.

This should challenge us to really consider how we witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Do we spread “God’s love” through the bully pulpit, through Bible thumping and through a “holier than thou” approach? Or do we get to know the people we are witnessing to and, instead of trying to change their culture or who they are, bring Christ to them in a way that works for them organically and naturally. Obviously, there are certain theological and doctrinal tenets we need to hold on to; however, the best witness to Christ is to accept people as they are unconditionally and guide them to who Christ truly is. I pray we all take on Paul’s model of evangelism.

“He who is not a good servant will not be a good master.” – Plato

Lord, help me to have the humility to see your image in all people regardless of their beliefs or culture. Amen.

God’s People, part 230: 3,000

Read Acts 2:14-47

“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.”  (Joel 2:28-29, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Peters-first-sermonPart 230: 3,000. We now move from the Gospel accounts of Jesus and his disciples, to Luke’s account on the life of the church following Jesus’ ascension. This account is actually volume 2 in a 2 volume work that Luke wrote. The first is, of course, the Gospel According to Luke. The second is entitled, The Acts of the Apostles. This second volume follows the apostles, the early church, and the missionary trips of the Apostle Paul. It starts in Jerusalem and ends outside the walls of Rome.

As we move through Acts, we will be looking at some of the characters that the Apostles interact with and we will see that the Holy Spirit did remarkable things for the promotion and spreading of God’s Kingdom through the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Miraculously, this budding movement would go from illegal “cult”, banned and hunted by Roman authorities, to the official religion of the Roman Empire. All of this, happened without Christians lifting a sword against Rome.

In today’s reading, we enter into Luke’s account just after the Holy Spirit came to to them on the day of Pentecost in the upper room. Right after that, the disciples were ecstatic and filled with the power of God through the Holy Spirit. They were compelled to bring their enthusiasm and their Christian witness out into the streets. There was just one problem to that: Pentecost was a big ordeal in Judaism and many people from all over the world would be there.

Why? Because it was one of three pilgrimage holidays in Ancient Judaism and, thus, disapora (Jews living outside of Israel) Jews would travel to Jerusalem to observe Pentecost, a holiday marked the date that God gave Moses the Torah, or Jewish Laws. It is a date that is marked 50 days after Passover, when God freed the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt. With that fact established, how would these diaspora Jews, who spoke the languages of the countries from which they came from, ever be able to understand what Peter and the disciples were saying?

To the amazement of the disciples, the people were miraculously understanding what the disciples were saying in their own languages at the very same time that they were speaking. How incredible is that?!?! Some of the people mocked the disciples, claiming that they were drunk; however, Peter reminded them that it was merely 9 a.m. and that they were most certainly not drunk, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Peter then proceded to preach his first recorded sermon. In that he proceeded to tell them the Gospel message, first as it appeared in the Old Testament. He tied in the the Messianic prophecy of Joel and then he turned to King David, whom he also referred to as a prophet! He convincingly conveyed how King David saw the day in which God would raise up one of David’s own and place him on the throne. He saw that the death of this Messiah would not end in the tomb, but in this Messianic King being exalted at God’s right-hand, the place of honor.

Finally, he convicted them with the truth about “Jesus the Nazarene”. He was God’s chosen Messiah; however, even though the Jewish political and religious leaders had Jesus put to death, with the help of “lawless Gentiles” (aka the Romans), Jesus was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples so that they might bring the Good News about Jesus Christ to all the people of Israel!

Upon ending his sermon, the people were so moved that they ended up getting baptized. ALL 3,000 OF THEM! That is right, Peter convicted the hearts of 3,000 people and they turned their lives over to Jesus Christ! Can you imagine that scene and how amazing it must have been. Can you imagine how moving, how transformative and, honestly, how frightening this all must have been?

Here’s the challenge for each of us. We are called to carry on the work of the disciples. We, too, are also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. That is a gift that the Bible tells us is bestowed on all believers. We have been given gifts of the Spirit as a result of that and should be using those gifts to bring more people into an intimate and transformative relationship with Christ. In what ways can you up your game in evangelism? How has God gifted you? In what ways, utilizing those gifts, do you see yourself passionately sharing your faith with others and guiding them into a relationship with Jesus Christ? I pray you will reflect on these questions and accept the challenge for the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.’” – King David in Psalms 110:1

Lord, continue to guide me toward being an even more faithful and effective witness to your good news! Amen.